What is Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)?
Much has been written about the negative effects of a traumatic experience. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as anxiety, stress, and negative changes in perception of the self and the world can occur after a traumatic event. However, there is a growing interest in understanding what many describe as positive outcomes that occur after a traumatic event.
In clinical and research literature these positive changes are called post-traumatic growth (PTG).
What is PTG?
PTG is understood as a change in development that occurs as a result of the trauma. Below are five dimensions that are thought to represent post-traumatic growth.
1. New Possibilities
As a result of the crisis of the traumatic event, the person discovers new options in life. This results in the creation of a new life path and a new perception or philosophy that changes past assumptions and beliefs (1).
2. Appreciation for Life and Changed Priorities
Greater appreciation for life can be manifested in existential awareness—such as experiencing a heightened sense of individual vulnerability or an amplified realization that one cannot predict or control certain kinds of events. Appreciation for life can also be expressed in an escalated perception of commonplace experiences, including experiences that may have seemed unimportant before the traumatic event. For example, greater attention may be paid to things that were previously seen as “small” and unimportant such as the texture of the sidewalk or the color of the sky (2).
3. Spiritual Changes
Spiritual growth is variable among trauma survivors and depends on their previous sense of spirituality or relationship to religion. For some, the traumatic event can increase faith in a higher spiritual power. Non-religious individuals may experience growth or new openness to spiritual matters. Spiritual growth can be related to finding meaning in the trauma and can function as part of the coping process (3).
4. Personal Strength
Changes in personal strength are related to a new understanding of the person’s capability to deal with challenges and adversities. Some trauma survivors can identify clear differences between their perceived skills and strengths before and after the trauma.
5. Relating to Others
As a result of the trauma, the person may need to reach out to others in new ways in order to receive support. This process can open up the person to new ways of relating, specifically, increased emotional connection and sharing of negative experiences. The person may strengthen connections. In some cases, the trauma survivor forms a desire to find meaningful ways to help others. (4).
The Power of Looking for Positive Outcomes
Research shows that the perception of one or more positive outcomes from a traumatic event is linked to better mental health in trauma survivors. In an examination of several studies measuring PTG, the research showed that those who tried to find a benefit that resulted from the trauma had lower levels of depression and a higher perception of well-being (5).
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), 455-471.
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 11-18. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli1501_01
- Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2001). Posttraumatic growth: The positive lessons of loss. In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), Meaning reconstruction & the experience of loss (pp. 157-172). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Collier, L. (2016). Growth after trauma. Why are some people more resilient than others – and can it be taught? American Psychological Association.47(10). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma
- Helgeson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 74(5), 797.